When I last coached, I struggled with self-care.
I really liked coaching. It felt purposeful and meaningful. I liked investing in kids and seeing them invest back in return.
I remember doing everything I could think of to guide their path. Late nights at the boathouse brainstorming practice plans with my head coach. Reading multiple books on nutrition, mental health, and mindset to find the right wisdom to share. Watching video frame by frame to find the most important things to work on. Looking for signals in the data for how we could make progress as a team. Listening to my athletes talk through their challenges to brainstorm a new path forward.
Despite it being one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, it was all very draining.
I didn’t make myself a priority. And while I could sprint like that for several months, it wasn’t a lifestyle I could sustain for years.
Stress, Self-Care, and Productivity
I’ve since changed paths to run RowHero. While my days are busier than ever, I’ve set better boundaries, and I feel energized to get the most out of my days and give more to others.
The change boils down to what the world calls “self-care”: an opposing force to all the work and stress we encounter.
We’ve known it for a long time by another name: recovery—just like how athletes recover from the stresses of training so they can stay injury-free and peak on race day.
And just like how some types of training are more draining than others, some types of recovery are more energizing than others.
You know from coaching that you need to find harmony between these two forces. Add enough stress, but not too much, and you gain fitness when you recover. Add too much recovery without enough stress, and you lose fitness.
This comes from the model of supercompensation:
While supercompensation has a lot of parallels with real-life outside of training, this model is incomplete for the real-world stresses of a coach.
You have this other cultural force which tugs at you which wasn’t part of being an athlete: productivity. It’s that force makes you feel that productive = good use of time, unproductive = waste of time.
Let’s challenge that.
The Self-Care Quadrant
I want you to think about how you spent your time in the last week. Was it energizing or draining? Productive or unproductive? Chances are the answers to those questions are not an easy “yes” or “no.” If it was too draining and you don’t have a good chance to recover, you might find this next step a helpful exercise.
Here’s a framework I like to call the self-care quadrant. On this graph we plot the activities we’ve done over the past week, based on how they affect your energy (energizing vs. draining) and how productive they feel to you. I’ve included some examples to make it concrete for you.
Get the idea? Now it’s your turn. Take the activities you did over the past week and plot them on the graph in one of the four quadrants: energizing & productive, energizing & unproductive, draining & unproductive, draining & productive.
Pro Tip: Don’t feel compelled to match where I put things, because your assessment of an activity is your personal and time-bound experience. For example, most of the time, while I feel the benefits of passive meditation, I can’t be bothered to sit still for 10-20 minutes. But when I’m incredibly exhausted, meditation is a go-to tool for me. The goal is to reflect on how this activity made you feel this week.
Where did you land? Do you have more activities on the bottom than on the top, or do you have a good balance? How do you feel about activities on the left side vs. the right side?
I encourage you to look at these activities as they are—without judgment. You may already find things that you want to change already. That’s great! Reflection is the birthplace of growth.
Let’s dive further with a view that can help you find the right balance. I’ve divided the quadrants into 3 sections: do more, do less, and your job/mission/purpose. Let’s look at each of these to see the opportunities in each.
Definition: Most activities related to your job and other obligations show up here. You have to do many of these things, and most take a physical, mental, or emotional toll. Sometimes you can find joy in them (watching the sun rise during practice over a misty lake), but they are usually the exception.
Questions for Reflection:
- Are the activities here what you expected?
- Can you move any of these activities up to be less draining/more energizing?
Definition: Energizing activities. Some can feel productive (gardening), and some not so productive (watching the sunset).
Questions for Reflection:
- If you’re stressed out, can you actively choose more activities in this area to fill your downtime with?
- How do you feel about activities which are energizing but not productive? Are you at peace making time for these? If not, why not?
- Do you struggle between choosing the unproductive but fun activity vs. the productive activity?
- Maybe evaluate what you will regret less.
Definition: Draining, unproductive AND barely energizing, unproductive activities. It’s no surprise that draining, unproductive activities are something you should do less. However, I also include barely energizing, unproductive activities here so you can identify what activities don’t fill you up.
Questions for Reflection:
- Which activities are energizing but still in this category? Can you change how you spend your time to do more energizing things? What gets in the way of doing those things?
- How do you reduce or eliminate draining and unproductive activities in your life?
I hope the self-care quadrant has given you some clarity on how you spend your time. If you’re struggling with staying energized, I encourage you to reflect on the questions above and see if you can find some solutions.
Please leave a comment with your experience, and feel free to ask questions.